New probe hounds ex-MRT chief

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014


PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III has ordered Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya to investigate former Metro Rail Transit 3 (MRT3) general manager Al Vitangcol, who was relieved and later resigned, after he failed to declare that he granted a P517-million maintenance contract of the railway to the company of his relative.

The Chief Executive said Tuesday that Abaya informed him Monday night that he relieved Vitangcol and appointed Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA) Administrator Honorito Chaneco as his replacement in an acting capacity.

"Allegedly, he (Vitangcol) didn't reveal that he had a relative who was an officer of this company to anybody including his Secretary...so he was relieved for that purpose," he told reporters in Palawan, adding that Abaya later received word from Vitangcol that he was resigning.

"So, I'm sure Secretary Abaya will take iyong nga -- upon discovery of this fact, will take all the necessary steps to ferret out the truth," he said.

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Aquino said that thorough investigation would be conducted to ensure that any possible case would prosper in court.

He also denied that Vitangcol was among those included in his "inner circle."

"Out of curiosity, sino sa inner circle ko si Vitangcol? He looks vaguely familiar but I don't really know him that well. Iyong I'll let my secretaries decide as to whom they want to work with," the President said.

The new controversy against Vitangcol was bared in a newspaper column on Monday.

Vitangcol allegedly awarded the service contract for MRT3 to Philippine Trans Rail Management and Services Corp. (PH Trams), a company put up by Arturo Soriano, an uncle of Vitangcol's wife, and five others.

In a statement, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) said that it was not aware of the relationship between Vitangco and Soriano, who was an incorporator of PH Trams, "until yesterday (Monday).”

It also said that Vitangcol confirmed during the congressional hearing "that he did not make this declaration to the DOTC officials."

But in a television interview, Vitangcol said Soriano would never get any monetary gain from the contract because he divested from PH Trams during the bidding process upon his advice.

“Nung time na nakuha nila (PH Trams) 'yung kontrata, wala na siya (Soriano) diyan. Pero since original incorporator siya, ang pangalan nya nandun sa SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) registration as an incorporator. Wala talagang nagbenepisyo diyan. Ang nagbenepisyo diyan ay 'yung existing miyembro ng kompanya,” he said.

Vitangcol was one of the seven members of the DOTC Bids and Awards Committee.

Vitangcol was also dragged into the $30-million extortion attempt from a Czech company in exchange for a contract for 48 new coaches for MRT3 two years ago.

Navotas City Representative Toby Tiangco said that during the height of the Inekon controversy, Vitangcol refused to step down from office despite being directly tagged by Rychtar as one of those who approached the company for kickbacks.

"There's something fishy to Vitangcol's sudden relief from MRT-3... there might be some reason behind his resignation. It may be a game plan to muzzle him in order to save a bigger fish," Tiangco said in a hearing on the issue.

Tiangco said that the demolition job against Vitangcol could be a ploy to smokescreen the real personalities behind the extortion attempt.

“He was cleared by the DOTC and absolved by Malacañang in his involvement in the Czech deal, and then suddenly, one day before the committee hearing, he is removed from office. I think he is ready to take the fall this time with the PH Trams case and be the administration's convenient scapegoat,” he said.

Leyte Representative Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said that Vitangcol should still be investigated for graft and corruption despite his resignation.

The final report of the National Bureau of Investigation's probe into the allegation was set to be submitted by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to Aquino on Tuesday. (SDR/Virgil Lopez/John Carlo Cahinhinan/Sunnex)

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